Gwladys Nocera can’t wait to get to Rio to play for Team France in the Olympics next month. And after an opening round of five under par 67 over Dundonald Links yesterday, she hopes to travel to Brazil as a two-time winner of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Ladies’ Open.
Winner at Loch Lomond eight years ago, the 41-year-old had six birdies and was a shot clear at the top of the leaderboard with a gang of Scots nicely poised to try and hunt her down over the weekend.
Pamela Pretswell, Sally Watson and Vikki Laing were three off the lead and tied on 70, while Catriona Matthew and Kelsey MacDonald were another shot back on 71.
Matthew, the winner at Archerfield in 2011 and 2013, holed from 30 feet for a birdie at the ninth, her 18th. But she rued missed chances, and was particularly irked by a six at the long 14th where she blocked a five wood shot into “rubbish.”
“The weather for the first nine was pretty miserable,” said the North Berwick 47-year-old who is in Team GB for golf’s reintroduction to the Olympics. “But I played solidly enough. It’s nice to get under par for the first round.”
Pretswell was a whopping nine shots better than her first round at Dundonald last year. She then made a great recovery, went on to have a great weekend and finished in the top ten.
Laing is hoping to earn a decent cheque this week to give a much needed boost to her bank balance. The Musselburgh 35-year-old has only played two tournaments on the Ladies’ European Tour this year and has resorted to working in a Portobello pub to help the finances.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to take another job,” she explained of her stints behind the bar at Forresters. “I work part-time, three days a week. It’s mornings and evening and I practise in between.”
There has been plenty negative publicity surrounding golf’s comeback to the Olympics, but Nocera yesterday brought a rather welcome blast of positivity. Many of the top men might have opted out, but she is absolutely thrilled to get such a chance.
“I’ve thought about the Olympics so much,” she said. “I’m probably going to stop playing soon and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is such an honour for me to play for my country.”
Nocera has another mission this weekend. She wants to gain one of the three qualifying spots for next week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn.
“I’ve played in the Open for the past 13 years but haven’t made it this time because I haven’t played too well over the first few tournaments this season,” she explained. “It’s hard not to be in. I’m in the final qualifying on Monday but it would be lovely to be going straight from here to Woburn.”
Nocera had five of her birdies on the front nine in what she described as “real Scottish weather’. In other words, cold, wind and rain. Summer?
“Overall everything was pretty good,” she declared. “I’m not a big fan of the rain but I do like a bit of wind and it should be fun over the weekend.”
England’s Hannah Burke, who was sixth last year, and Wales’ Becky Morgan were in a group in second place. Burke, a first-time winner in the Czech Republic last year, is another who is desperate for a high finish to claim one of the three qualifying spots for the British Open. “I live in Hertfordshire and it’s only half an hour from Woburn so it’s almost a home venue,” she said. “I got into the Open at Turnberry last year from playing well here at Dundonald so I hope I can do it again. The course is in great condition. We had rain early on but I started solidly with four birdies in my front nine.
“I did have a couple of lip outs at the first and second [her 10th and 11th] but came back with birdies at the sixth and eighth so, overall, I am very pleased. I rolled in a couple of really long putts so, hopefully, it’s going to be two good more days.”